As borders close, refugee crisis in Europe escalates

refugees in Samos

Photo of refugees in Samos by JTStewart, published under Creative Commons license

This week, the already-terrible refugee crisis in Europe got worse, as Turkey and the E.U. reached an agreement that severely restricts refugee movement, and Balkan nations closed borders, leaving refugees stranded in makeshift camps.

The Balkan route closed completely, as Macedonia joined Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia in closing its borders to refugees. The route had provided a way for refugees to move from Greece to more prosperous, able-to-cope countries like Germany or Austria or Sweden or Norway. The probably-permanent closure of borders leaves at least 13,000 refugees huddled in a muddy, makeshift camp in Idomeni, on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia.

This post also published in Immigration News

The Washington Post says this week’s border closures and Europe-Turkey agreement pretty much completely prevent refugees from getting to Europe:

“In southwestern Europe, that’s really hard. Hungary has already blocked the way and is arresting asylum seekers who try to cross. Albania and Bulgaria are possible options for the 13,000 migrants trapped at the Greek-Macedonian border. But the terrain in Albania — mountainous and wild — is hard to cross and riddled with local mafias extorting and beating travelers. In Bulgaria, the border is relatively well guarded, and authorities there have been arresting allegedly beating migrants who try that route.”

That may push refugees to try a still more dangerous route through Libya and across the sea to Italy.

The E.U.-Turkey agreement says Turkey will take back Syrian migrants attempting to cross the Aegean to Europe. In exchange, the E.U. would accept one refugee from Turkey for every migrant that Turkey takes back. That only applies to Syrian refugees, not to the Afghans and Iraqis, who make up half of the refugee stream.

Even worse, many European countries are completely halting family reunification, meaning that the husbands and fathers and brothers who went first to make a home for their families cannot bring those families to join them. Since many of their families have already left the war zones of Syria, that leaves increasing numbers of women and children stranded in overcrowded refugee camps in Turkey and Greece, with no hope of reunification.

According to Al Jazeera,

“Last year, nearly 1.3 million people applied for asylum in the European Union. That is more than double the number from 2014.

“Most made the perilous crossing across the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece. More than 3,700 people died trying.”

And more will die, both in dangerous sea and land crossings, and in makeshift refugee camps. “We are dying here,” one Syrian mother told an Al Jazeera reporter on the Greek-Macedonian border.

Meanwhile, the more prosperous countries of northern Europe leave Greece and Turkey, among the poorest countries on the continent, to cope with millions of refugees stuck in camps on their territory.

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